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Tips on travelling to Ghana from Ian Packham

Ian M Packham is an award-winning travel writer, adventurer and after-dinner speaker. In love with travel generally, and all Africa has to offer, more specifically. He is the author of Encircle Africa: Around Africa by Public Transport, the account of his solo and unassisted circumnavigation of Africa by public transport, a journey of 13 months and 25,000 miles.

Ian's other adventures include travelling the length of Sri Lanka's longest river, walking the coast of the Isle of Man, and retracing the steps of his great uncle through North Africa and Italy during World War II.

How well do you know Ghana?
Over the past few years I've visited Ghana twice. It was one of the first sub-Saharan countries I visited, and helped me fall in love with Africa to the extent that if you add up my various visits there, I've been lucky enough to spend almost two years on the continent, the majority of that in sub-Saharan Africa.

What is the appeal of Ghana for travellers?
Ghana is small enough to allow visitors to see a variety of its regions in one trip. More importantly, it is one of the friendliest countries in Africa. English-speaking, the colour and vibrancy of life there, the countries intriguing history, its landscapes and wildlife are all massive draws.

When is the best time to visit?
Unless you're a serious masochist you'll want to avoid the rainy season. With this in mind, I think the best time to visit is between November and April and a shorter period from July to August.

Anything special I should pack for travel there?
A mosquito net is a must, since malaria and yellow fever are endemic. Even rooms in high-end hotels can lack them (or worse, have nets with holes large enough to allow a pigeon through).

What's the best way to get around?
The most comfortable way to get around is almost certainly a 4x4 with or without driver (or even a private taxi). However, the most immersive would be to travel by public transport. This generally means the shared taxis called tro-tros, which are cheap and leave only when full. As an example of their feasibility, in my longest journey on the continent I spent 13 months circumnavigating Africa by public transport, travelling something like 25,000 miles.

What are your top three attractions?
Elmina Castle on Ghana's Atlantic coast holds the honour of being believed to be the oldest European structure in sub-Saharan Africa. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was built by the Portuguese in 1482 and later transferred to Dutch and then British control, it was an integral part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
For a sense of the sights, smells and sounds of modern life it's hard to beat a visit to Makola market in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, thought to be one of the largest markets on the continent.

Finally, it's difficult to resist the trip to Mole National Park in Central Ghana. Possibly the cheapest place in Africa to view wildlife, visitors regularly encounter elephant, baboon, warthog and various antelope. Leopards and hippos also live within the confines of the park.

Anything or anywhere travellers should avoid?
The first sub-Saharan country to gain independence, and one of the first to embrace democracy, Ghana is one of the safest countries in Africa. There are no regions or cities that should be avoided.

Anything I should be aware of as a visitor in terms of local customs/traditions?
Ghana is generally quite conservative in outlook. Interaction with locals will be much more successful if you dress conservatively, avoid public signs of affection, and speak to everyone (but especially elders) with respect. Don't forget to ask how people are when starting a conversation; and smile!

How safe is travel in Ghana? What safety measures would you advise visitors take?
As I've already suggested, I find Ghana to be much safer than people often believe. As a visitor you will be welcomed warmly by locals. They understand the importance of tourism for the economy, and will do almost anything to protect that.

Take the usual precautions of travel anywhere: use a money belt, don't flash cash or jewellery about, and don't leave valuables unlocked in hotel rooms. Keep an eye out for road traffic too, as it can be unruly at best.

Would you recommend it as a destination for families travelling with kids?
Absolutely. Not only is there the history, wildlife, and beaches to keep every family member amused, but also the fact Ghanaians adore children.

What are the best souvenirs to buy in your country?
Wooden carvings can be found across the country, usually as masks or animal statuettes (try and ensure they are made locally). Weaving, of either flax-like leaves or cloth, is also a traditional pastime. Markets offer a great place to get cheap good quality spices such as the chilies you might see drying in the sun on the side of the road.

Is Ghana expensive to visit?
Thought not the cheapest destination in the world, you would be very hard-pressed to spend as much as you would in a European or North American destination. Hotels, food, and entrance fees are all extremely kind to the western pocket, though it's also possible to splash the cash in high-end hotels and shopping centres for a treat.

Which city is your favourite?
Though Accra, the capital, is definitely the beating heart of Ghana, and has both a fantastic location on the Atlantic Ocean and a host of historically important locations, my favourite city is Kumasi. Located in Ghana's central savannah belt, it is the ancestral home of the Ashanti tribe. While still thriving, it is more relaxed than the capital, and a gateway to the country's less-densely populated north.

Is there anything else about the region you think travellers should know?
It's easy to be scared off committing to a trip to sub-Saharan Africa because of its media profile. Don't be! Ghana is a great introduction to the region, offering something for everyone whatever their interests and budget.